Saturday, June 13, 2009

June critique 3

Here's a little flower sent in for the readers critique. Often I fault painters for shoving things up against the rabbet of the frame. In this instance it is not a problem, because the artist did what I suggested on another painting yesterday. The object is put boldly past the edge of the frame rather than kissing it. You may remember I faulted a painting yesterday that had a tree that stopped right at the top of the canvas. This artist has submitted to a reader critique before and always has lovely clear color.

I can, however, find a few minor faults with this piece though. The first is that it has a problem I call "one for each eye". There are two objects in the painting both about the same size and both calling equally for our attention. The vase and the flower are equally interesting. I think this would be a better painting with one establishing dominance over the other. Perhaps a second flower or two more flowers, or a smaller sort of flower? Or perhaps a less assertive vase?

The handling of this picture is broad and squared off, it seems to me to be a little too technique driven. I think the painting would have been better if their had been more observation. I wonder what a little work in sight size would do for this artist? This piece would benefit from being pushed a little further. That is not to say it needs to be tightened up, so much as better observed. It seems like this artist has become over systematized in their paint handling and that is starting to drive the painting more than it should. You have to be careful about establishing a "method" or a manner of doing things. That will make your art less expressive and lead to automatic,, rather than considered ways of doing things.


I am sorry to have to be the one to tell you that cruel truth, but you will be a better painter if you accept that, and look for evermore expressive ways of doing things rather than more effective, or tried and true means.

The brush work in the flower describes it with one stroke for each petal which runs with the petal every time. That gives a remorseless, over concentrated look that is a little primitive. It would be better to describe the whole flower in several strokes simplified into a bowl shape, with those few strokes running around the form rather than with the petals. Then the bowl of the flower would be lit on one side and a few divisions into petals hinted at. That would give a much broader and simplified look. I am not a flower painter, but I guess down the road here I may have to do a lesson, and actually demo what I have just described. Until then, I hope you can imagine what I mean. I am arguing for building the entire large structure of the flower, and then hinting at its subdivision into petals, rather than building the flower from an assembly of petals.

Above is a portrait that I was sent. I have no idea, of course what this sitter looked like.This was done on a computer with a wacom tablet. I have never done a crit on a computer generated image, however I now have a lot of readers who work in digital media, so I guess I better get used to it. Several times readers of forums aimed at digital artists have linked to this blog and I guess I am teaching things that can be useful over there too.

But I do have some suggestions. First of all the edges seem too hard pretty much all over the head. This is particularly true around the hairline. The hairline is behind the face and if you keep it nice and soft, the face will come forward and be dominant. Not everything in a picture can be equally important. The hair needs to be subordinated to the face. I think the eyes are placed too high, but that's a guess, as I said I have never seen the sitter. I think that the light on the left nostril is way overstated and is disrupting the form there. That needs to be knocked down until it assumes its proper place in the constellation of values defining the face. The whole neck should be dropped in value so as to get it to drop under the head and behind the chin. At the same time I would light the forehead more to get it on top of the form. Pretend its a big cube and then think about how each of those facets would take the light. The planar structure of the cage around the eyes is a bit off. There is a little plane caused by the malar bone which sits on the "corner" of the face, I give that as an example of the little structures that make a head go around in this area. Incidentally, it seems to me that the game makers and computer generated character designers always get this wrong. My kids play with a game sometimes that has heads that all lack a clear understanding of this passage.

I would recommend your reading "The Human Figure" by John Vanderpoel. This book does a very nice job of explaining all of the planes of the head and the rest of the figure too. It was first published in 1935 , and like so many of the books I recommend (if not all ) it was from a time when skill in painting was far more common.

The Vanderpoel book is profusely illustrated with black and white reproductions of the authors own very excellent drawings showing the construction of the various features of the body. The text, which does require careful study describes what is happening to the forms that are displayed in the illustrations.. It is the anatomy book that I have found most useful. Gonna cost almost 7 dollars though.

Above is a landscape that is pretty nice but I went to work on it anyway. Maybe I improved it. Anyway here's what I did and why, below.

The first thing I did was gradate the sky from the top to the bottom, I felt that the sky being one value from zenith to horizon made it flat. I also changed the pattern of the clouds. They had been all about the same size and all gathered in one part of the sky. I made what I think is a more dynamic arrangement, and there is more variation in value there now. That enables me to get greater contrast between the sunlit tops of the clouds and the sky itself. That gives a more sunlit look.

I rearranged the pattern of lights and darks in the trees on the left and got greater differentiation between the lights and the shadows. I want those two worlds to be separate, again that gives me more light and looks cleaner. I also reworked the sky holes on the right side of the tree mass. I wanted the shape of the trees and the sky to "interlock" in an interesting way. I like to interlock my shapes, that gives me more varied outlines and establishes a design relationship between the various shapes.

I made the fence on the right side come and go out of the shadow by throwing most of it into a shadow note and then accenting parts of it with a sunlit value. I arranged the wildflowers into drifts and more connected patterns instead of an overall "sprinkled" dispersal. I then reworked the road so that it dips and rises as it goes to the distance. In that distance I added atmospheric perspective to make the furthermost line of trees drop further back.

On the right I softened up that little tree and made it a little larger and more ornate so as to better balance the left hand masses of the painting. I felt that the little hot spots of red scattered around the foreground and middle ground weren't working, so I processed those a little bit. In order for them to be effective they would have to be a different color as they grew more distant. If you use a note in the foreground, you may not drop that note into the middle ground or distance without destroying the depth. The two notes become equidistant. Watch out for that, it destroys aeriel perspective.

I am again writing on my daughters computer. My trusty ten year old laptop has died. It was so riddled with bugs and glitches that it is, I am sure, better off dead. However, until I buy a new one, I will probably check my e mail less often and only answer comments once a day for a while. I should be able to post every day, but it will be a nuisance. If I should publish a post late I apologize, hang in there, I am coming.
See you tomorow!


Deb said...

Question, Stape. Looking at Vanderpoel's book. Some reviews of it state that an older copy actually has better quality on the illustrations. I have found some of the older hardcover versions online - do you happen to know whether that is the case or not? Are the new paperbacks sufficient? thanks.
great comments, as usual. I especially appreciated the handling of the landscape as I have a similar scene that I want to "re-do". Which begs another query. Do you ever go back and "fix" older paintings?

Stapleton Kearns said...

My copy is 30 years old,but it is a paperback. I haven't seen a new one.I can't say, however I would probably buy the hardcover if you think you will treat it gently and the paperback if you intend to abuse it. My copy is very well worn.

I advise you to leave the old painting alone if you can. Keep it as a develpmental record. Make a copy of it and work on that. It is a lot faster than it sounds. You may lose a couple hours to the copying, but you won't lose your "notes"if things don't go well, you might lose the old one, this way you can freely experiment yet still have a guide.

John said...

I just recently bought a paperback copy and the reproductions, while I haven't seen an older version, are very good. I have spent hours copying some of the more elaborate charcoal drawings in there and never felt like I needed more visual info.

It's good to see a head crit, Stape. I know you do landscapes mostly, but maybe you could do some figure crits, too?

Anyway, great post all around and best of luck resolving your computer troubles.

Deb said...

okay, thanks for the feedback John and Stape... I am going for the paperback version. Since just about everything in this house eventually ends up with paint on it - the refrigerator handle, the cabinet doors, the phone, the mouse, the keyboard.. I should probably get a version that doesn't need gentle treatment.

Deb said...

Oh, and I may not be able to leave the old painting alone. It is really bugging me now that I look at it with "older, more experienced" eyes.
I tend to throw old, bad ones away.
My hubby finds them in the trash, retrieves them, and hides them. I find them again, and throw them away a second time when he's not home. This one is either headed for the dump or a second round on the easel. It is an odd size canvas that I don't have any more of. (good enough excuses?)

deepbluehue said...

I'm glad that I'm not alone in thinking that painting and drawing gets harder the longer you work at it. I'm struggling to learn and I always feel like I'm taking big steps backwards.

I'm really enjoying this blog. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and for doing critiques.

Jeremy Elder said...

Thanks for your critique. It's funny, I think I am doing all the stuff you are saying, but I think I am being too tentative and not going far enough. I have Vanderpoel's book, but I haven't read it in a long while - I must revisit it.

I will make a lot of corrections and then resubmit. The nice thing about digital is that I can continually work on it until I get it right.

Deb said...

Somewhere, sometime ago I read a piece that described the 4 levels of learning. It has always stuck with me, and I think they do apply to us as painters.
The first level is unconscious incompetence - that's the person who simply doesn't know that he doesn't know much about painting (or whatever) and sets out to paint a picture and might be pleased with the results.
Then, he wants to paint some more,and at some point, he begins to realize there's more to it, other people have painted way better paintings. That's the second level: conscious incompetence. Now he realizes there's lots he doesn't know and he sets out to learn.
At some point, after much practice, and maybe a workshop or two with Stapleton, he does learn a thing or two, and he is now consciously applying all the principles he's beginning to understand. He has to think about them, and still requires practice and effort, but, he can make it happen with more or less degrees of success. That is the third level: conscious competence.
The last level is when all the years and years of painting and practicing come together, and there are many things that now are just second nature.. he might not even consciously think about using aerial perspective,for example, he just does it because it is almost second nature... he just knows. That is the fourth level, and called "unconscious competence".
I think we spend most of our time bouncing back and fourth between level 2, 3, and 4, as it applies to various principles in painting. We gain a certain level of expertise in one area, and it begins to be just part of how we paint.. we don't have to think about it alot, but then we run into a problem and realize we have some growing to do, and we're back at level 2, and we work our way back up to 3, and hopefully 4, in that arena.
Well, I know this is a long comment, but I think it does give good reason why things seem harder the more we paint - we just know more now and have higher levels of expectation, and a broader base of knowledge to realize what's out there that we just don't know yet.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I guess I will begin to shop for a new laptop.
. Until then I will use one of the old cpu's from the closet and patch together some kind of a unit.There are computer dinosaurs around here and I will have something to use for sure.


Stapleton Kearns said...

That's probably the right choice. I have several antique copies of Carlson, but I try to preserve them by using my 1960's copy.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Deb ,
Tomorrow I am going to post a cautionary note on throwing paintings away.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Thanks,I believe I may addres that some more tomorrow also.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gee, I thought Vanderpoel was obscure.
The other cool thing about digital is that you can save each state and revert back to that if you lose it.The cruelest thing a wife can say to a husband is "a......whaddja doota it?"

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is very wise stuff. I remember reading something like that once too. Was it Kubler Ross? Or was it Emden Meyerhof?

willek said...

I have been unstapling some of my old canvases off of their stretchers abd stacjubg them up. I recently did that and cropped and restretched a portion of the picture and it was much improved. But I think it is cheating. WillEK

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will adress that tomorrow too.

willek said...

Geee, Stape. What you do with the photoshop is really helpful. It is a fantastic way to show all of us what you are really talking about. I would have to say it is better hytan at verbal crit in every way. WillEK